High-ranking Kurdish officials from Irbil had a pressing question for a group of US policy and intelligence strategists holding a closed-door meeting in Europe this week: Why doesn’t the Obama administration see what is going on in the Middle East?
The question elicited no answer, just a shrug and the unspoken thought: Is President Masoud Barzani of the autonomous Kurdish Republic of Iraq all that naïve?
DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Irbil and Washington hear that Barzani buttonholes anyone he meets with influence in the White House or National Security Council to get him an interview with President Barack Obama. The Kurdish leader is convinced that the US President is not apprised by US intelligence on the true state of affairs in the embattled parts of the region and acts out of ignorance. He is certain that, given the chance, he would open Obama’s eyes to the truth – even though seasoned advisers warn him that it wouldn’t work.
Nonetheless, the Kurdish officials tried putting before their American interlocutors at this week’s meeting nine key points and questions they are anxious to bring before President Obama:
Kurds see Erdogan as ISIS instrument
1. They are certain now that the military arm of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is none other than the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS.
Otherwise, why would Ankara give so many ISIS volunteers free passage through Turkey to Syria, and why would Turkish banks transfer funds to the jihadi group? And not only funds; the weapons ISIS picks up on international markets pass unhindered through Turkey into Syria and on to Iraq.
Capping all this, the two agents handling the sale of oil pirated by ISIS from fields in Iraq and Syria are – who else but Syria’s Bashar Assad and Turkey’s Erdogan?
2. The Turkish president’s obsession with battling the Kurds is by now common knowledge. So is his scant interest in fighting ISIS, except as a front for his campaign to destroy the Kurdish movement.
3. A representative of the Syrian rebel Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is present at the joint US-Turkish war room located at the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep. His job is to collect a list of ISIS locations as targets for attack. This data sits on a desk and never moves over to the active tray.
Without US support, Kurds’ choices are between Tehran and Ankara
4. The US-led coalition was not stirred into action even when Islamic State forces last August and September reached the outskirts of Irbil. The Kurdish capital was not saved by the Americans, but mostly by the fighters of the PKK – the Kurdish Workers Party, which Erdogan reviles and violently persecutes. Those PKK fighters came down from their Qandil Mountain sanctuaries and fought shoulder to shoulder with the peshmerga. They beat the Islamist horde back, warding off Kurdish genocide, such as ISIS committed in the slaughter and enslavement of their neighbors, the Yazidis.
So what exactly is Washington’s game in not just refusing to let the Kurds have the heavy weapons, missiles and assault helicopters they need to push ISIS back, but twisting the arms of parties in the region willing to provide these tools of war?
5. PKK leaders were smart enough to read the map and quietly relocate their command centers from the Iraqi Qandil mountains to Iran (as DEBKA Weekly 675 revealed last week: Kurdish PKK Command Bolts from Qandil to Give Tehran a Coup.) If nothing changes in Washington, thousands of PKK troops are likely to follower their officers to their new haven in the Islamic Republic.
Irbil will be left with two grim options: placing the peshmerga, like Baghdad, under the Iranian Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani; or falling subject to the tender mercies of Erdogan, knowing that he will hold the KRG back from fighting ISIS as he does its fraternal communities in Syria and Iraq.
Why is the US hitched to Erdogan’s falling star?
6. By going all-out to win the Turkish president as its collaborator against ISIS, the US is hitching its policy to a wagon about to drown in the sand.
7. After his party failed to build a government coalition, Erdogan flouted every democratic norm by highhandedly calling a snap election, thereby robbing the party with the second largest vote count, the Republican People’s Party, of its prerogative for setting up an alternative government.
8. Every pundit in the region sees the writing on the wall for the Turkish leader: The party he and his Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu lead is widely expected to fall in the November 1 poll far more steeply than it did in the last general election seven months ago.
9. Two scenarios are envisaged for the demise of Erdogan’s rule: He and his family will either be tried for corruption and abuse of power, or they will skip the country to avoid justice. So the Kurds and others wonder what interest America has in staking him.
The American officials at the meeting promised to try and bring the Kurdish case before the president, but advised their representatives not to pin hopes on Obama changing his tune on Erdogan – although of late, their relations have cooled somewhat.